Anyone looking to get their accounting degree may at one point or another give pause to ask if becoming a CPA is worth it. This might especially be true for those current accountants with dreams of climbing the ladder and someday becoming a CFO or top dog firm partner.
The fact is while a CPA may find themselves still working in the same areas as their former unlicensed accountant salad days, getting that licensure is, indeed, well worth its weight in gold in the long run.
What Is a CPA?
A Certified Public Accountant, aka CPA, is a licensed accountant with certain specific qualifications to their name. What sets apart a CPA from an unlicensed accountant? The answer boils down to the four E’s: Education, Experience, Examination and Ethics:
- CPAs must earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration, finance, or accounting, and must complete 150 hours of education compared to the 120 hours required for a BA.
- CPAs must have worked for at least two years in public accounting and at least one year working under a licensed CPA.
- CPAs must pass a rigorous test called the Uniform CPA Exam, administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
- CPAs are expected to adhere to the AICPA’s (the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants) code of conduct, which, according to Franklin University, “includes treating clients with objectivity, integrity and truthfulness while remaining free of conflicts of interest.”
How Do CPAs and Accountants Differ?
The old saying goes, “Every CPA is an accountant … but not every accountant is a CPA.” While there is a degree of crossover between CPAs and their accountant brethren, certain distinctions set apart the qualified CPA.
Data from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) also indicates that while there are more than 665,000 CPAs in the U.S., that number accounts (pun intended) for only half of all accountants.
Accountants are generally responsible for daily financial activity at their company or organization, such as organizing and recording financial transactions (i.e. accounts payable and receivable); reconciling end-of-month or end-of-year accounts; analyzing financial statements; and preparing budgets.
Now, CPAs may still find themselves operating in this same familiar territory, with one key distinction: CPAs are regulated by a governing body — namely, the AICPA.
The AICPA designates five key areas of expertise CPAs specialize in:
- Auditing and review
- Tax preparation and consulting
- Consulting services
- Financial planning
- Litigation consulting
What’s Involved in the CPA Exam?
The Uniform CPA Exam is a 16-hour, four-section assessment (four hours each) that you must pass in order to become a CPA, with each section focusing on different skill areas. According to the Minnesota Society of Certified Public Accountants, budding CPAs can expect four sections in the exam:
- Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
- Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
- Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
- Regulation (REG)
The CPA exam, according to Investopedia, has 276 multiple-choice questions, 28 task-based simulations and three writing portions. You’ll need to score a minimum of 75 points in each section to pass.
Why Getting Your CPA Pays Off
Now, we won’t deny that passing the Uniform CPA Exam is difficult; but with determination, hard work, effort, studying, studying and more studying, passing with flying colors is possible. And the sky truly is the limit after becoming a CPA. Here are some reasons why.
Respect and Recognition
Those three letters — CPA — following your name indicate that you’ve completed the education requirements, survived the mammoth CPA exam, and have several years of training under your belt. A black belt in the accounting world, that is, since CPAs are regarded with high respect among their peers and colleagues, placing you in a higher echelon than that of an unlicensed accountant where your advanced title can make you feel proud to show you put in the work and earned a prestigious credential.
Better Employment Opportunities
Akin to earning an advanced degree, like a masters degree, MBA or doctorate, getting that CPA places you in an elite class, and opens up doors for more short-term and long-term opportunities for employers looking for candidates with proven licensures and credentials. CPAs are needed everywhere, from public accounting as well as in private industry, and to solidify your career development and advancement, earning the CPA designation can help individuals work upwards to higher levels in a company. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for people with their CPA license is expected to grow by 22 percent by 2028.
Job stability isn’t just one perk of earning your CPA. With better, more senior job opportunities come the potential for higher salaries and benefits. Statistics show that CPAs earn a 10 to 15 percent higher salary than regular accountants, and that over their entire lifetimes, CPAs can expect to earn $1 million more than their non-CPA counterparts — even when working in the same position. And with higher salaries comes the potential for better benefits, where your CPA cred enables you to negotiate for more perks, flexible working hours, more paid time off, etc.
AP Professionals Connects CPAs to Careers
AP Professionals has been providing top-tier information technology (IT) staffing and recruiting solutions across the USA, in five regional offices, since 1993. In addition to IT, we serve several industries, such as healthcare, manufacturing/supply chain and utilities/green energy, to name a few, where opportunities await for CPA holders or accountants on their way to earning their credentials. Our experienced recruiters work with you every step of the way to match you with the right employer and advance you along in your career.
Contact us today to get started.